Very rarely do fans of both teams walk away from a baseball game happy with what they saw, but Monday was one of those rare occasions. Mets fans got to celebrate a much needed late inning come from behind victory that kept them 1.5 games ahead of a badly underachieving Washington Nationals squad, and Rockies fans got a six inning glimpse at Jon Gray's ceiling. And oh is it a glorious ceiling.
Last Tuesday may have been Gray's first official start in the majors, and that dreadful excuse of a bullpen may have prevented Gray from picking up his first win, but if Gray becomes what we all hope he becomes in a couple of years, this is the game you're going to remember as his coming out party.
He wasn't perfect. Gray allowed a solo home run to Travis d'Arnaud in the second and walked the pitcher with two out in the fifth (really Jon?). Beyond those isolated blemishes however, the first six innings of this game were the Jon Gray show.
Here's how things started out. Gray struck out Curtis Granderson on this pitch looking:
97 mph painted on the inside corner. The pitch was tailing back towards the plate a bit, but it was still a generous call. Either way, an ideal 1-2 pitch. The hitter isn't doing much with that.
What I think impressed me almost as much as the gas he was offering though is how Gray continued to go back to that spot in future at bats. It was a move of a veteran. He and Nick Hundley realized that home plate umpire Chad Fairchild had a somewhat incompetent zone, and to their credit, they tried to take advantage of it. (This does not excuse Chad Fairchild or MLB for the strike zone)
Since it's addictive to watch, here's a loop of that pitch as well as a later strikeout of Jon Niese.
The Lodo Magic Man also linked this table in the comments section last night, and it serves as a perfect demonstration of how overwhelming Gray's fastball was to the Met hitters. It averaged 95 mph, he dialed it up to as high as 99 mph, it had six inches of horizontal movement (!!!), and he threw it 79 percent of the time (59 out of 75 pitches). In short, he was throwing gas, with movement, and throwing it for strikes.
When you can locate a weapon like that, the fastball suddenly becomes multiple good pitches. 95 with movement plays differently on each of the four corners of the plate, so even if a hitter is expecting a fastball, they're still likely to guess wrong if they have to cover the entire plate with that type of velocity. If they do guess right, you get what happened in the d'Arnaud at bat, but most of the time, you get what happened the rest of the night, which was Gray not allowing another hit in his six innings of work.
Gray was so efficient in this game that even though he was on a 75 bullet pitch count, he still made it through six innings, which is further than most Rockies pitchers usually get with 100. His Game Score of 69 tied for the third highest of any Colorado starter this season, and it probably would have approached 80 it he was allowed to continue.
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Not only does Gray throw gas, but he throws easy gas. When he's on his game like he was last night, it looks like an effortless 95. It's obviously not. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to make that happen, but there's certain arms that can produce an easy looking zip on the ball, and it's been a long, long time since the Rockies had one of them in a starting role. You either have it or you don't, and Gray has it.
When he walked off the mound after his six innings, the entire outing almost seemed like a blur. He completed that work in just 90 minutes, and got through three separate innings on less than ten pitches. After watching what we've watched on the mound for the last few seasons, it almost didn't seem real.
Of course, we got a dose of reality as soon as Gray left and were treated to Justin Miller and Boone Logan combining for 37 pitches to get through the seventh in which they gave up three runs and the game. The road Rockies offense also made an appearance late in this one as they ended the game on an 0-17 skid.
But all of that doesn't matter here. What matters is that Jon Gray showed us what he can do to major league hitters when he's on his game. He won't be this good every start. The baseball gods will make him deal with growing pains as hitters adjust - They always do. But if he adjusts back and keeps climbing that ladder, this is the Gray you will expect to see more often than not in a couple of years, and that's exciting.
If the next era of Rockies baseball is successful, it's probably going to start with what we saw in this game. Gray can't replace the broken memories and dreams of the Rockies era that's ending, but he can help us build new ones.